I love newspapers but I easily admit that Australia's papers could do better. I understand that Fairfax's management is in a difficult position regarding making improvements and making more money (or less losses, as the case may be).
Call me old-fashioned, but I think newspapers need in-house subeditors. I also think that journalism staff should be consulted in major decisions like outsourcing subeditor work.
With that in mind, I sent an email to Greg Hywoood, Fairfax CEO, and Jack Matthews, Metro Media CEO, about their recent decision.
Sent: Tuesday, 17 May 2011 4:37 PM
To: Greg Hywood; Jack Matthews
Subject: Please reconsider your plans for subeditors
Dear Messrs Hywood and Matthews,
I understand that the newspapers are in trouble. All the Fairfax staff I've spoken to recognise this as well. I spoke to blind Freddy the other day and he told me how sick he is of people always using him as a reference. He told me that AFTER saying that the newspapers clearly need to change the way they work.
Costs need to be cut but a newspaper is an ecosystem. All aspects of the papers need to be taken into account and staff should be included in decisions that may destroy their very ecosystem. That, to me, just seems like common sense with respect to survival.
To not consult staff in decisions to remove an entire section of the paper is clearly going to damage moral amongst staff, threatening the survival of that ecosystem.
I appreciate that you have pressure on all sides and short-term solutions can seem inviting, but I urge you to reconsider your approach.
Things might look grim right now, but I've spoken to a lot of your staff members who are willing to put in the hard work for a better future, to strengthen the Fairfax brands. Don't force them into despondency. Use their energies and willingness.
We need smart decisions to save the things that are culturally important and we can work together to find financially sustainable ways to do so.
Yesterday I received a reply from Jack Matthews.
Date: 25 May 2011 8:52:17 AM AEST
To: Josh Kinal
Subject: RE: Please reconsider your plans for subeditors
Thank you for your note of 17 May. I appreciate your comments in the positive spirit they were offered.
The decision to outsource some sub-editing to Pagemasters was not an easy one, but we believe it is necessary within the context that newspaper publishers all over the world find themselves. In a fragmented media environment, traditional media companies need to develop sustainable content and commercial models; status quo is not an option for us. The decision to move some work to Pagemasters is actually a re-allocation of resources from the production part of journalism to the creative part. As an integral part of this decision, Fairfax has committed to investing an incremental $3 million to hire new writers and reporters and to implement multi-media training programs to better equip our journalists. We believe this will result in even better journalism.
High quality, unique content - the kind Fairfax has always been known for - is the key to a sustainable future. That is the area we in which we need to invest.
In addition, we are also taking some significant steps to ensure that quality is not compromised. We have created three new positions: Page Editor, Story Editor and Reader Editor as part of this process. These positions (which encompass a significant number of staff) will be responsible for maintaining the high quality to which you are accustomed.
I hope you will continue to enjoy reading and supporting our journalism for many years to come. All the actions we are taking are designed to make sure you can do both.
Thank you again for your support and for taking the time to provide your views.
CEO Metro Media
Unfortunately I think it's already too late for the Age. I don't buy the paper anymore and I click on links leading to its website rarely because I fear the fly-ins, pop-overs and auto-plays.
Outsourcing subeditors is a novel approach but not one that builds confidence in a newspaper trying to keep or even build up an audience.
The personality of the Age died a while ago although its echoes linger. The masthead might continue but it only serves as a memory of what we once had.
Radio and television, as we currently know them, are not far behind. The dinosaurs are toppling and the bugs are taking over.
Now, can someone help me get my antennae straight?